Vieques - Sustainable Future

CORALations corals at
Fri Dec 3 19:54:27 EST 1999

We have been off island and returned to a discussion regarding Vieques. People have expressed concerns about what will happen to Vieques after the Navy leaves. Some have even suggested that the U.S. Navy is conserving Vieques' 
natural resources from the development juggernaut. 
While most of us find it hard enough to maintain some level of objectivity in discussions about nutrients, Edwin Hernandez, a Puerto Rican marine biologist, made some well defended points to this list on the Vieques issue. Edwin and his coral reef research team spend many hours underwater monitoring coral reefs in Culebra and Fajardo while listening.. and feeling... the underwater blasts of reefs being destroyed near Vieques -- those sounds which one U.S. Senator so cavalierly (and ironically) described as "The Sounds of Freedom." 

A civilian is dead and four others injured. For us, and for the people of Puerto Rico, it is too late for more Navy promises. We hope that the events soon to follow with those individuals camping in an act of civil disobedience on the target range do not result in further loss of life. 

Currently President Clinton is in the process of deciding one it in the interest of National Security to continue bombing the island of Vieques...with either live and/or inert ordnance? To our knowledge, all of Clinton's National Security advisors are either retired or current military personnel. 

The Navy is not managing a Nature Reserve on Vieques by any stretch of the imagination. 

What the U.S. Navy is doing to this fragile and biologically diverse tropical ecosystem, as well as the poor community inhabiting the island, is far from sustainable in terms of natural resources, or ethical in terms of human rights. If this island is so crucial to National Security, as the Navy once similarly claimed of Culebra, why did the Navy so carelessly violate its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the people of Puerto Rico? Dr. James Porter of the University of Georgia recently surveyed coral reefs in the target area on Vieques on behalf of the government of Puerto Rico. In a letter dated August 27, 1999 to Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of Interior, Dr. Porter wrote the following: 

"We found substantial evidence that military activity on Vieques is contributing to the degradation of the island's coral reefs. To make matters worse, we also found physical evidence that the Navy has not lived up to its 1983 Memorandum of Understanding not to target or shell offshore coral reefs. Despite signing this MOU, the Navy is in fact still targeting objects positioned on the reef, and believe me, we saw and documented clear signs of coral reef destruction from this bombardment." 

We have possibly contributed to the confusion regarding sustainable development issues springing up on this topic. For years we have been expressing concerns to both Reef Relief and to CMC regarding Puerto Rico's construction driven economy and government incentives which propel what I would describe as rampant and reckless development. Many scientists on this list have been to Puerto Rico and witnessed the impacts to our reefs from such non-sustainable practice first hand. Our sediment clogged rivers and decimated reef systems surrounding the big island are a testament to the ineffective job local government and indeed organizations like ours are doing to conserve our coastal resources.  Local non-government environmental groups in Puerto Rico are admittedly spread very thin. The government of Puerto Rico passes new laws whose objetive is to exclude meaningful public participation and most recently the need to submit an EIS for developments which are "fast tracked" through government offices. We are at constant odds with local and federal government agencies involved in resource conservation, as our mission is strictly one of conservation and their motives often seem less clearly definable. 

It is of no surprise conservation orgs have not been effective when the only course of action at both the local and federal government levels is to go to court to get government agencies to enforce their own environmental laws. 

It is also significant that we are united with our local government on this one issue - to stop the bombing of Vieques. 

As Edwin Hernandez mentioned, there is a multi-disciplinary group of local scientists, engineers and professors now drafting management plans WITH THE LOCAL COMMUNITY of Vieques, to address toxic clean up, conservation management planning and limited sustainable development - if the Navy leaves. This team represents real planning talent with the interest of both the people of Puerto Rico and of conserving their natural heritage. What is of concern is that there are no guarantees this panel's recommendations will be considered or implemented by local government. 

This, however, in no way influences our conviction that the Navy must stop bombing Vieques. 

Puerto Rico is not the only place where greed and short sighted planning has resulted in the destruction of coral reefs or other diverse ecosystems.  

Puerto Rico is the only place where intense evaluation of weapons systems for the U.S. Navy and NATO forces is conducted and concentrated in diverse tropical ecosystems on a small island with over 9,000 inhabitants.  

We encourage others involved in coral reef conservation issues to fax President Clinton, if you have not already taken action. We live and work in Puerto Rico and recognize this as the first important step toward the community of Vieques achieving their conservation objectives on the biologically diverse, tropical island of Vieques. Let the President know we simply do not have the luxury, if we ever had, of targeting fragile ecosystem with either live or inert ordnance. 


Mary Ann Lucking
Project Coordinator
PMB 222
5900 Isla Verde Ave. L2
Carolina, PR  00979-4901
corals at

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